Sahm: Newark’s Charter Schools Deliver on Their Original Purpose — and Spark Innovation Across the District
This essay was originally published on NJ.com, discussing the original vision for charter schools and the strained relationship between charters and district schools. However, in Newark, New Jersey, a different approach is being taken to bring about collaboration between charters and districts, particularly at the teacher-to-teacher level.
Newark Public Schools is currently operating a literacy program for second-graders who are struggling with reading. The district identified these students and reached out to parents through letters, emails, and phone calls to encourage them to enroll their children in the program. The district enlisted the help of the best reading teachers and partnered with the Uncommon Schools charter network to train these teachers in a literacy program that has proven successful in Uncommon’s schools in Newark.
Uncommon Schools took over the Alexander Street School, which was previously one of the lowest-performing schools in the state, and implemented a turnaround strategy. The school reopened as a K-4 school in 2014 and saw significant improvements in student performance. Fourth-graders at the school achieved proficiency rates in English and math that exceeded state averages.
The success of Alexander Street School caught the attention of Chris Cerf, the new superintendent of Newark Public Schools. Cerf expressed interest in replicating the school’s achievements and a partnership between the district and Uncommon Schools began to develop.
Recently, 60 district teachers attended a professional development session where they were trained in Uncommon’s literacy program. What stood out about the session was the lack of emphasis on the fact that the instructors were from a charter network. Instead, the focus was on effective literacy instruction for struggling readers and the exchange of knowledge and experiences between teachers.
The collaboration between Uncommon Schools and Newark Public Schools is seen as a model of true district/charter cooperation. Uncommon’s effectiveness as a charter network, as recognized by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, has led to the hope of expanding these efforts to other cities where Uncommon operates.
Amidst the divisive opinions surrounding charter schools and education, the collaboration between Uncommon and Newark Public Schools is seen as a positive sign. It shows that a reboot of the charter school system, one that emphasizes collaboration and innovation, is feasible.
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